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Heard about 'slack fill'? It's why the makers of Raisinets are getting sued

The lawsuit says consumers are tricked into thinking the box is full

Sour grapes? No, we're past that. This complaint has to do with raisins.

Ones that were covered with chocolate by the candymaker Nestlé, and then poured into a box that was sold to a California woman.

What's the problem? Well, the box was 40 percent empty. Not by mistake. That's how Nestlé sells Raisinets – in a box that's much larger than needed to hold the candy.

The lawsuit Sandy Hofer and her lawyers filed in a federal court in California Tuesday argues consumers – who can't see into the box – are tricked into thinking it's nearly full. The suit calls this deceptive packaging and says it amounts to illegal false advertising and consumer fraud.

What's more, this lawsuit might eventually involve you. If you ever buy Raisinets, that is. Hofer's attorneys have asked the court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all the Raisinets consumers they say have been deceived by Nestlé.

Slack-fill

A spokeswoman for Nestlé tells the Wall Street Journal the lawsuit has no merit, saying all the company's products comply with government regulations and they give consumers the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions.

But Nestlé might want to at least prepare a defense against a "slack-fill" charge. That's an official Food and Drug Administration term for the empty space in a container you can't see into.

The Journal looked it up in the FDA's regulations, which say there are half a dozen legitimate reasons for slack-fill – like "protection of the contents" or "unavoidable product settling." But if you don't have one of those approved good reasons, your slack-filled package is considered misleading.

The case of the changing pepper tins

This whole saga reminds us of the lawsuit Winona-based Watkins filed against America's biggest seller of pepper, McCormick.

McCormick's pepper comes in metal tins you can't see into. When they reduced the amount of pepper in a tin from 2 ounces to 1.5, they changed the label but continued to use the same size of tin. That led their rivals at Watkins to file a false advertising suit, which is still pending.

And things are looking up for Watkins in that case. The Consumerist notes McCormick asked a judge to toss out the lawsuit, arguing that packaging is not advertising. But in October the judge completely rejected that argument, writing that it "defies common sense and the law."

Stay tuned, denizens of Raisinets City.

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